Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Movies: The Thing (2011), The Thing (1982), and Prometheus (Trailer #2)

The Thing (2011) - That is one nifty prop. Ew. Shame about the film though.

The Thing (2011) doesn't work for me. I'll be getting into Spoiler Territory to explain why. If you haven't seen any Thing film and you don't want the films to be spoiled, don't read on. Just see The Thing (1982), and skip The Thing (2011).

- Spoiler Territory -

The main problem is that the film-makers have decided to make a prequel to the much superior The Thing (1982) by John Carpenter, so that the events in their film dovetail exactly into the events of Carpenter's film.

The burned-out Norwegian camp in the 1982 film is a mystery. The U.S. team arrives there, sees a bunch of stuff that is confusing and unsettling (to them and to the viewer). Stuff like: a bloody fire axe lodged in a door, a frozen straight-razor-suicide corpse, and another inexplicably bizarre and malformed "corpse" which they take back to their camp for further investigation. The U.S. team and the audience don't know what is going on. The unknown is a big part of fear, and the 1982 film knows this and uses it to full advantage.

If you've seen the 1982 film, it renders the 2011 film -- which is all about the Norwegian camp -- boring. For example, where the axe in the door is purely a minor ambient detail in the 1982 film, the 2011 film treats it as a "moment". It doesn't bother making it a creative moment, however, and when the character who swung the axe into the door goes to retrieve it, an accompanying character, after a ridiculous pregnant pause, portentously intones "Leave it". The 2011 film is a bland exercise in reverse engineering that seems to be satisfied simply by showing you step-by-obvious-step how we got "there" ("there" being 1982). If you know your destination before you get there, at least make the journey surprising. Subvert audience expectations!

Another problem for me was the score. The 1982 film has a score by Ennio Morricone, based on input from Carpenter, who often scores his own films with sparse, haunting, pulsing synthesizer-based music, and it is delightfully creepy. Unfortunately, the 2011 film has a by-the-numbers orchestral score by Marco Beltrami, which calls attention to itself and takes the viewer out of the film. It's so obvious that I got annoyed whenever the music cues started. The only time the score works in the 2011 version is during the closing credits epilogue, when the film-makers just use the 1982 Morricone score outright.

The one creative thing the 2011 film has going for it is the "human test". The titular "Thing" can mimic humans exactly, as each of its' cells is an individual chameleon organism. In the 1982 film the characters perform a test where they collect blood samples from everyone and stick a heated wire into those samples. If the blood tries to escape the heat, the blood donor isn't human. In the 2011 film they prepare to do a similar test, but the blood lab is sabotaged by arson. The lead character found unattached dental-fillings earlier in the film, hypothesizes that the "Thing" can't imitate non-organic components of humans, and suggests that anyone who has fillings is human. Subsequently, paranoia-and-tension-filled mouth-checking ensues. This sequence of events is the only sequence in the film that does what any sequel or prequel should do: give us the flavour of the original in an exciting new way.

The 2011 film overall? Disappointing. If you want a really creative new take on material from The Thing (1982), you should read the 2010 short story The Things by Canadian science-fiction author Peter Watts (which I recommend reading even though Watts and I differ on exactly what's happening with Carpenter's ending).

- Prometheus -

What does this all have to do with the upcoming film Prometheus?

Only that from brief descriptions I have read, it appears it's going to be a prequel that in part fleshes out mysterious, ambient background details of the 1979 film Alien.

Alien is one of my favourite films, if not my favourite film. It's the reason I work in the industry that I do.

I have faith, Ridley. Please don't mess it up.

Here's the link to the second Prometheus trailer, which I haven't watched. I'm trying to keep the film unspoiled before I see it.